Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Declining Christianity in USA

America’s Changing Religious Identity:

A major new report published today by PRRI has revealed a continuing decline in religious affiliation with 'nones' now comprising 24% of the population.

There is now a marked generational shift in religious affiliation with 38% of the key 18-29 year-old age group identifying as 'nones' against just 12% for the 65+ age group. White Christians now comprise just 24% of the 18-29 year-olds against 63% of the 65+ age group.

The report also reveals the continuing decline in White Christians who fall below 50% for the first time in a PRRI survey, although other surveys have also reported a similar recent finding. This group, which in 1976 comprised 81% of all American adults, now accounts for just 43%.

Two other significant findings were the increasing ethnic transformation of American Catholicism which, 25 years ago was 87% White, compared to 55% today, and the increasing polarisation of American politics on religious grounds. 73% of Republicans are White Christians compared to just 29% of Democrats. A decade ago, 50% of Democrats were White Christian.

Among the major findings were:

  1. White Christians now account for fewer than half of the public. Today, only 43% of Americans identify as white and Christian, and only 30% as white and Protestant. In 1976, roughly eight in ten (81%) Americans identified as white and identified with a Christian denomination, and a majority (55%) were white Protestants.
  2. White evangelical Protestants are in decline—along with white mainline Protestants and white Catholics. White evangelical Protestants were once thought to be bucking a longer trend, but over the past decade their numbers have dropped substantially. Fewer than one in five (17%) Americans are white evangelical Protestant, but they accounted for nearly one-quarter (23%) in 2006. Over the same period, white Catholics dropped five percentage points from 16% to 11%, as have white mainline Protestants, from 18% to 13%.
  3. Non-Christian religious groups are growing, but they still represent less than one in ten Americans combined. Jewish Americans constitute 2% of the public while Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus each constitute only 1% of the public. All other non-Christian religions constitute an additional 1%.
  4. America’s youngest religious groups are all non-Christian. Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists are all far younger than white Christian groups. At least one-third of Muslims (42%), Hindus (36%), and Buddhists (35%) are under the age of 30. Roughly one-third (34%) of religiously unaffiliated Americans are also under 30. In contrast, white Christian groups are aging. Slightly more than one in ten white Catholics (11%), white evangelical Protestants (11%), and white mainline Protestants (14%) are under 30. Approximately six in ten white evangelical Protestants (62%), white Catholics (62%), and white mainline Protestants (59%) are at least 50 years old.
  5. The Catholic Church is experiencing an ethnic transformation. Twenty-five years ago, nearly nine in ten (87%) Catholics were white, non-Hispanic, compared to 55% today. Fewer than four in ten (36%) Catholics under the age of 30 are white, non-Hispanic; 52% are Hispanic.
  6. Atheists and agnostics account for a minority of all religiously unaffiliated. Most are secular. Atheists and agnostics account for only about one-quarter (27%) of all religiously unaffiliated Americans. Nearly six in ten (58%) religiously unaffiliated Americans identify as secular, someone who is not religious; 16% of religiously unaffiliated Americans nonetheless report that they identify as a “religious person.”
  7. There are 20 states in which no religious group comprises a greater share of residents than the religiously unaffiliated. These states tend to be more concentrated in the Western U.S., although they include a couple of New England states, as well. More than four in ten (41%) residents of Vermont and approximately one-third of Americans in Oregon (36%), Washington (35%), Hawaii (34%), Colorado (33%), and New Hampshire (33%) are religiously unaffiliated.
  8. No state is less religiously diverse than Mississippi. The state is heavily Protestant and dominated by a single denomination: Baptist. Six in ten (60%) Protestants in Mississippi are Baptist. No state has a greater degree of religious diversity than New York.
  9. The cultural center of the Catholic Church is shifting south. The Northeast is no longer the epicenter of American Catholicism—although at 41% Catholic, Rhode Island remains the most Catholic state in the country. Immigration from predominantly Catholic countries in Latin America means new Catholic populations are settling in the Southwest. In 1972, roughly seven in ten Catholics lived in either the Northeast (41%) or the Midwest (28%). Only about one-third of Catholics lived in the South (13%) or West (18%). Today, a majority of Catholics now reside in the South (29%) or West (25%). Currently, only about one-quarter (26%) of the U.S. Catholic population lives in the Northeast, and 20% live in the Midwest.
  10. Jews, Hindus, and Unitarian-Universalists stand out as the most educated groups in the American religious landscape. More than one-third of Jews (34%), Hindus (38%), and Unitarian-Universalists (43%) hold post-graduate degrees. Notably, Muslims are significantly more likely than white evangelical Protestants to have at least a four-year college degree (33% vs. 25%, respectively).
  11. Asian or Pacific-Islander Americans have a significantly different religious profile than other racial or ethnic groups. There are as many Asian or Pacific-Islander Americans affiliated with non-Christian religions as with Christian religious groups. And one-third (34%) are religiously unaffiliated.
  12. Nearly half of LGBT Americans are religiously unaffiliated. Nearly half (46%) of Americans who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) are religiously unaffiliated. This is roughly twice the number of Americans overall (24%) who are religiously unaffiliated.
  13. White Christians have become a minority in the Democratic Party. Fewer than one in three (29%) Democrats today are white Christian, compared to half (50%) one decade earlier. Only 14% of young Democrats (age 18 to 29) identify as white Christian. Forty percent identify as religiously unaffiliated.
  14. White evangelical Protestants remain the dominant religious force in the GOP. More than one-third (35%) of all Republicans identify as white evangelical Protestant, a proportion that has remained roughly stable over the past decade. Roughly three-quarters (73%) of Republicans belong to a white Christian religious group.


There are two major demographic changes going on here.

The first is, as with Europe and much of the developed world, an increasing rejection of established religions and a consequent increase in the 'nones' or unafilliated, especially in the younger age groups. Of the 'nones', 27% are Atheist or Agnostic whilst 58% identify as 'secular' rather than religious. Only 16% identify as religious - contrary to claims that 'nones' are not so much non-religious and just not affiliated to any religious group. In fact, the difference between 'non-religious' and 'Atheist/Agnostic' is probably more semantic than real and may reflect a reluctance to admit to Atheism/Agnosticism due to feared social stigma and rejection.

Amongst the unaffiliated, younger Americans are more likely to identify as Atheist or Agnostic (31% against 24% for seniors). In 20 states, the 'nones' are now the largest single grouping, although none reach the levels of the 53% recently reported for the UK. Vermont has the highest at 40%.

The second is the increasing proportion of Hispanics in American society, most of whom are or were Catholic and who tend to be distributed disproportionately in the South West. This has shifted the Catholic population centre of gravity south and compensated the Catholic grouping to some extent for its losses into the 'nones'.

Although there are marked differences in educational attainment between the different religious groups, there is little evidence that this is due to the religion per se so much as being an effect of the association between social class and religion with those from the economically under-privileged groups generally under-achieving in education and the under-privileged groups also tending to belong to the fundamentalist religions which are themselves divided along racial lines.

One of the trends uncovered by this survey is that, despite their apparent increasing vociferousness and confidence, and their penetration of the Republican Party which now resembles a political front for evangelical White Protestantism, is that White Evangelical Christians actually show a marked decline. They have fallen a full 9% in the ten years from 2006 and now comprise just 17% of the population.

Until we get down to the detail, there appears to be little correlation between educational attainment and non-affiliation. This may seem surprising given that in the social media, debates and arguments between those advocating for religion and those for Atheism/Agnosticism almost always reduce to arguments about evidence and the validity of belief without evidence, or 'faith'. However, within the unaffiliated grouping, differences between Atheists and Agnostics and the generally 'religious' begin to emerge. 42% of this group have a four-year college course education or better whilst only 35% of Atheists and 31% of Agnostics have a high-school education or less.

The over-all picture is of an increasingly secular America with a growing rejection of organised religion, especially amongst the young. However this picture is blurred by other demographic changes. America remains strongly stratified along racial lines and religious affiliation remains a strong social group identifier for many people. This may be masking other underlying trends as may be reflected in those self-identifying as 'none' not yet being prepared to identify as Atheist/Agnostic.

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